Tuesday, December 1, 2015
Reader’s Question: Should I Get A Divorce?
First of all, let me say, I hate getting this question. It ranks right up there with the second most dreaded question: should I marry this person? There is just too much responsibility involved! How am I supposed to know these things? Sure, I have an opinion. I have an opinion on literally everything, but whether or not you should listen to it, that’s another question entirely. Whether or not you should use it to plot out your life? I am not even certain I should be using it to plot out mine. So with all of that laid out on the table and kept clearly in mind, I will try to answer the question.
Obviously, I know a little more about this particular situation than I am sharing, because it really isn’t any of your business. Also while the particulars vary every time I am asked this one, my answer is always pretty much the same.
I am big believer in the “Three A’s” when it comes to reasons for Christians to divorce. If you are not familiar, they are adultery, abuse, and abandonment. On the surface these all seem like well-defined terms without much need for elaboration. However, it really isn’t as simple as it seems.
Adultery can encompass emotional affairs, addictions, pornography, and just about anything else where the one’s affection has been transferred to something else. Abuse does not have to involve physical violence, but can also include emotional, mental, spiritual, and sexual abuse. Abandonment can be more than one person physically leaving the marriage, and can also refer to those situations where one spouse has emotionally and mentally checked out of the marriage. Space does not allow me to be more specific, but I go into all of this in greater detail in Scandalous.
I am also a big believer that while these are perfectly legitimate reasons to seek a divorce, they do not require you to get a divorce. More than one marriage has not only survived infidelity, but has gone on to thrive as the two people committed to work through the issues that led to the act. I have also known those who have been abandoned who waited faithfully for God to restore their marriage to have their spouses return to them more in love and committed than ever before. I have also witnessed many in abusive situations that did not include physical or sexual violence stay and work with their spouse to save their marriages.
Now, let me be perfectly clear on this, no one should ever stay in a violent situation. We are called to be good stewards of what we have been given, this includes ourselves, and allowing abuse that puts you or your children in danger is not being a good steward. If you are experiencing this, get out and get out now. Once you are safe, if you still believe that there is hope for your marriage, seek the help of professionals to guide you through a reconciliation process that should include repentance on the part of the abuser, accountability for both parties, and a sustained demonstration of change. Do not think that you can do this on your own, or that one tearful apology means that everything is fine now. You need outside, objective help. Do not return until you both seek and receive it.
So if all of these things are reasons you can get a divorce but do not mean you don’t have to get a divorce, then we still need an answer to the question and therein lies the rub. I don’t know. Your best friend doesn’t know, you parents don’t know, and even your pastor doesn’t know. The only person with that type of knowledge is you.
Here is what I do know:
Divorce isn’t a sin. God designed marriage as the perfect union between two people, a way in which we could combine strengths and overcome weakness within an environment dedicated to helping us mature in him. However, he also recognized that we aren’t perfect and the people we marry aren’t perfect. He knew that not everyone could withstand the rigors of marriage, and there are some who will actively destroy the gift he has given to them in the love of another person. So he designed an escape hatch that we call divorce.
Someone is screaming at their computer, but God hates divorce. Yes, yes, he does, but go back and read that passage you are shouting. It is found in Malachi 2:16. Notice what he does not say in that passage, he does not call it a sin. He says that the problem lies in the lack of love, in the failure to guard ones spirit, and in being faithless. All of these things are a problem with God no matter where they are manifest in our lives, but that is the key – our lives. We cannot control the decisions of another person including our spouse, and if they choose to dishonor the promise they made to us then we have no responsibility in that. We can only choose to control our response, and sometimes the best response is to get out of the way and give God a clean shot.
And while you have your Bibles out, you should also look up Jeremiah 3. Pay close attention to verse 8.
I also know divorce changes you. I know because I have been there. There is nothing pretty about it, even when you are getting out of a horrific situation. No matter how good freedom might be, you are still going to grieve. A dream is dying, there is no way to avoid it, and when our dreams die a part of who we are dies.
The only real advice I can offer you is this:
Search your heart, know why you are contemplating this decision. If it is just because you think you will be happier free of your marriage, you are buying into a lie. If you are doing it because they changed, you need to realize that so did you, it is called life, and part of marriage is learning to navigate the changes together. If it is because you feel dissatisfied or discontent, then you need to take responsibility for your own emotions and stop placing unrealistic expectations on someone else.
Determine what you can live with – not today, but ten years down the road. Can you leave now and feel like you did everything in your power to heal your marriage? Will you be able to look back and say, I did my best and it was all I could do, and say it with a clean conscience? Because you will, even after my ex wrapped his hands around my throat and tried to strangle the life out of me, I asked myself that question knowing that divorce was the only option I had left.
Refuse to make any decision until you have peace. Notice what I did not say, I did not say happiness because the two are entirely different critters. Peace is that quiet assurance that wells up in our souls that allows us to rest. Happiness is fleeting and easily destroyed. Peace can look past the tears and know that despite the pain the decision is one that leads you to wholeness and healing.
No one can answer these questions, only you can do that, but until you know the answers I can love you, I can pray for you, and I can support you in the search. That is what real friends do, we don’t make the decision for you. We simply offer the tools and the safe place to use them.
Emily Dixon is an artist, writer, and teacher whose unique style is the direct result of her ability to combine the abstracts of faith with the demands of the real world. Born into a heritage of faith, Emily's childhood revolved around the church where she learned the disciplines of a Christian life. However when faced with a devastating marriage and divorce at the age of 23 she recognized the need to move deeper into her understanding of God's love and purpose for her life. Returning to school, she added a degree in Psychology to her previous degree in Fine Arts. Later she continued her education and earned a Master's Degree in Biblical Literature. She supported her two daughters through this time by working in sales, teaching art, bartending, and as an adjunct instructor in the Bacone's College Christian Ministry Department. Each of these experiences deepened her conviction that there is a desperate need for the truth of God's love, mercy, and redeeming power to be shared with the world in a bold new way. In June of 2010, Emily married Ty Dixon who encouraged her to quit her day job and pursue her passion of sharing her love of God and His word. Thanks to his support, Emily's dream of becoming a full time writer and speaker have become a reality.